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Gaza is Everywhere

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stephen Graham


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0 0 1 2314 13190 Newcastle University 109 30 15474 14.0 A hidden archipelago of between 80 and 100 mini cities is rapidly being constructed across the world. Rising far from the world’s main metropolitan corridors, in obscure edge-of-city and rural locations, these new ‘cities’ are set deep within military bases and training grounds. The vast majority are located in the United States, presenting jarring contrasts with the strip-mall suburbia that surrounds them. Others are rising out of the deserts of Kuwait and Israel, the downs of Southern England, the plains of Germany, and the islands of Singapore. Some such cities are replete with lines of drying washing, continuous loop-tapes playing calls to prayer, wandering donkeys, Arabic graffiti, even ersatz ‘minarets’ and ‘mosques.’ Others have ‘slum’ or ‘favela’ districts’ and underground sewers with built-in olfactory machines which can create the simulated smell of rotting corpses or untreated sewage on demand. Still others are populated occasionally by itinerant populations of Arab-Americans, bused in to wander about and role-play in Arab dress. Beyond these temporary inhabitants, few, beyond military personnel, ever see or enter these new urban complexes. Unnoticed by urban design, architecture and planning communities, and invisible on maps, these sites constitute a kind of shadow world urban system. As a global system of military urban simulations, they lurk in the interstices between the planet’s rapidly growing metropolitan areas. Otherwise Occupied is part of an ongoing effort by researchers, activists and artists around the world to reveal and problematise the multifacted colonial project within which this burgeoning archipelago of urban warfare training sites sit. Crucially, though, it is more than a critique -- it is an affirmation. Otherwise Occupied grapples with the challenges of positively imagining the Palestinian national polity and society beyond the borders of Gaza and the West Bank. It wrestles, in other words, to counter the often dominant imaginative power of a dubious transnational nexus which intimately links security-industrial complexes, national security states, and popular and corporate media. This works to continually render Palestinian society, nationhood and urbanity as nothing but devious, Orientalist threat with a boundless terrain of endless war and necessary occupation. It is, as the Otherwise Occupied programme notes argue, “ vital that the idea of Palestine is not defined by the occupation.” Practiced Destruction Turning to urban warfare training ‘cities’ in more detail, rather than being monuments to construction, dynamism and growth, these sites are violent theme parks for practicing urban destruction, erasure, and colonial violence targeting real, far-off – or, in the case of the Israeli projects, not so far-off -- cities. These sites are being constructed by military specialists, with the help of military corporations, theme park designers, Hollywood experts, universities and video games specialists. They are simulations of the burgeoning Arab and Third World cities that are deemed the de facto zones of current and future warfare for Western forces[1] They are small capsules of space designed to mimic in some way what US military theorist, Richard Norton, has pejoratively labeled the ‘feral’ cities which Western military planners deem to be the strategic environments dominating contemporary geopolitics.[2] Eyal Weizman[3] emphasises that Israeli and Western military doctrine now stresses the need not just to enter and try to control large urban areas. Also important here is the challenge to physically reorganise colonised city spaces so that high-tech weapons and surveillance systems can work to the occupiers’ advantage. Weizman calls this “design by destruction”. As he puts it, “contemporary urban warfare plays itself out within a constructed, real or imaginary architecture, and through the destruction, construction, reorganisation, and subversion of space.” [4] In keeping with the post-Cold war mutation of Western military doctrine into the planned remodelling of cities by force, the purpose of simulated urban warfare training cities is to allow US, Western and Israeli forces to hone their skills in designed urban destruction. Following extensive training in these sites, Western and Israeli military units deploy to the real cities of Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, or elsewhere, to undertake what, in military parlance, are termed ‘Military Operations on Urban Terrain’ (or simply ‘MOUT ‘ for short). Like the rest of the world, then, military training sites are rapidly being urbanised. Colonel Thomas Hammes, writing in the US Marine Corps Gazette in 1999, was one of many defense planners arguing at that period that a wide range of new mock cities were needed because US military training sites were out of phase with “the urban sprawl that dominates critical areas of the word today.” “We know we will fight mostly in urban areas,” he continued. “Yet, we conduct the vast majority of our training in rural areas – the hills of Camp Pendleton, the deserts of Twenty Nine Palms, the woods of Camp Lejeune, the jungles of Okinawa, Japan.” [5] The US military’s response has been particularly dramatic. Between 2005 and 2010, the US Army alone built a chain of 61 urban warfare training ‘cities’ across the world.[6] Whilst some of these are little more than air-portable sets of containers, designed to provide basic urban warfare training when deployed around the world, others are complex spaces mimicking whole city districts or sets of villages, as well as surrounding countryside, infrastructure, even airports. Leading examples of the more complex sites include Fort Carson, Colorado (which has three different mock ‘Iraqi villages’), the national ‘Joint Readiness Training Center’ at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Benning, Georgia, the Marines’ main site at 29 Palms in California, and Fort Richardson, Alaska. Along with a wide range of simulated western cities developed as sites within which to practise police and military responses to terror attacks, civil unrest or infrastructural collapse, these sites provide a global architectural simulation, a shadow archipelago of ‘cities’ which mimic the urbanization of real wars and conflicts around the world. These sites “tackle calamity in an amusement park of unrest, insurgency and its abatement,” writes Bryan Finoki. “Architectures both elaborate and artful, [they are] designed solely for the purposes of being conquered and reconquered.”[7] Urban warfare training ‘cities’ are stark embodiments of the imaginative and real urban geographies which have been at the heart of the global ‘war on terror’ and its decendent political projects. Powerful materialisations of what Derek Gregory has called our colonial present,[8] they need to be understood as part of a much wider effort at physically and electronically simulating Arab, Palestinian or global south cities for tightly-linked imperatives of war, profit, pacification and entertainment. Indeed, these complexes take their place within a wide constellation of simulated Arab cities and urban landscapes, which draw on Orientalist tropes and traditions. These are also emerging within video games, virtual reality military simulations, films, newspaper graphics and novels. Together, these contribute to one massive discursive trick: to construct Arab and Third World cities as stylised, purely physical, and labyrinthine worlds which are somehow both intrinsically terroristic and largely devoid of the civil society that characterises normal urban life.[9] The result is that Arab cities emerge here as little more than receiving points for US military ordinance and colonial military incursions – whether real or fantastical. Where the cultures and sociologies of Arab cities have are beginning to be considered in urban warfare simulations, Orientalist cliché, or high-tech dehumanisation, tends still to be the norm.[10] Some simulated ‘Arab’ cities in the U.S., for example, have been ‘populated’ but merely by locally recruited role-players in keffiyehs muttering Orientalist clichés. Meanly, the ‘populating’ of electronically simulated ‘cities’ is simply generated by computer software electronically-generating ‘crowds’ within the cities to be attacked. Either way, this constellation of urban simulacra thereby do the important geopolitical work of continually reducing the complex social and cultural worlds of Arab, Palestinian or global south urbanism to the city as mere target, or ‘battlespace,’ to be assaulted in a purported campaign against ‘terror’, or for ‘freedom.’. Baladia: ‘This is Our Playground’ “It is here, in this parallel world, that the occupation of the Palestinian territories is played out by generations of Israeli soldiers, over and over again.”[11] By far the most ambitious and controversial mock ‘Arab’ city so far constructed, however, is not a US-facility at all. Ostensibly, it is an Israeli one: the $14 million ‘Baladia’ facility at Israel's Ze’elim base in the Negev desert (Figure 7.4). However, given that the site has been paid for by US military aid, built between 2005 and 2006 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and is used by US Marines, perhaps ‘US-Israeli’ would be a more accurate description. Costing $40 million and covering 7.4 square miles, Baladia has 472 complete concrete structures, and four miles of roads. It is the first urban warfare mock city which begins to mimic the scale of real urban areas. The Baladia complex has been explicitly built to generalise the purported military lessons of Israel’s regular incursions into Palestinian cities and refugee camps since 2002 to the whole of Israel's armed forces (as well as friendly militaries). The complex simulates a complete Palestinian town.[12] The ‘town’ is split into four ‘quarters’ and is wired up with surveillance equipment to monitor the ‘combat’. Most notable at Chicago are a range of mechanical cut-outs bearded caricatures of Arab men which are programmed to pop-up in windows and street corners during live-fire exercises. Baladia has simulated apartment buildings, a market place, mosque and a concrete ‘casbah.’ It’s “cemetery [] doubles as a soccer field, depending on operational scenario.”[13] ; its ‘nature reserve’ hides Hezzbollah-style rocket launchers. “Charred automobiles and burned tires litter the roadways” [14]; streets are filled with mock booby-traps. As well as a complex surveillance system to track soldiers’ performance, an elaborate audio system that can replicate helicopters, mortar rounds, muezzin prayer calls, and about 20 other distinct sounds.” [15] As in US complexes, “hundreds of soldiers, most of them 19- and 20-year-old women, graduates of Arabic language and cultural programs, [operate as] play-acting civilians and enemy fighters.” Baladia even has ready-made ‘worm-holes’: the openings in the walls of buildings that Israeli soldiers routinely blast their way through Palestinian cities and refugee camps to avoid the perceived vulnerabilities of the street. The scale of Baladia allows it to be flexibly re-arranged in order to provide a purported simulation of any specific city within which the IDF or other forces are planning to launch operations. Baladia can thus be easily reconfigured into renditions of ‘Gaza’, ‘Lebanon’, the ‘West Bank’ or ‘Syria’.[16] "This is our playground to practice for anything we need," reported Lt. Col. Arik Moreh, the base's second in command. During 2007, for example, Lebanon and Syria were the main Israeli preoccupations. Thus “creative engineering [was] required to transform the area into what IDF officers here call Hezbollahland,” writes Barbara Opall-Rome. “During a late-May visit [in 2007], IDF planners were busy transforming large portions of Baladia City into Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold from which extremist Shiite forces extracted a heavy price on IDF ground troops in last summer’s Lebanon War.’”[17] In 2006, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, two Israeli photographers, succeeded in making a detailed study of Baladia (which they refereed to by it’s other name, “Chicago’). Their research about the complex concludes that it “was not based on a specific town but is a generic ‘Arab’ place, designed by the soldiers themselves, building on their intimate experience of the minutiae of Arab cities.” Great attention has been paid to detail. “Graffiti has been applied to the walls with obscure declarations in Arabic: ‘I love you Ruby’ and ‘Red ash, hot as blood’.” Baladia embodies strange contortions of simulation and denial. As Broomberg and Chanarin suggest, “this convention of using the name ‘Arab’, rather than Palestinian, effectively obscures identity, and in this sense Chicago as a ghost-town evidences the thread of denial that runs through much of Israeli discourse about relations with Palestine. towns like Ramallah and Nablus.” Following their visit to the complex to complete their photography, Broomberg and Chanarin spoke about its deeply unnerving qualities. “It is difficult to pinpoint what it is about the place that is so disturbing,” they said. “Perhaps it’s the combination of the vicariousness and the violence. It’s as if the soldiers have entered the enemy’s private domain while he’s sleeping or out for lunch . . . It’s a menacing intrusion into the intimate.8 By December 2006, the complex was also receiving regular visits from US military commanders. “This is a world-class site that the Israelis have built,” LTG H Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, gushed during a December visit. “We probably should have a facility like that of our own; in the interim, we should explore the opportunities to train here […]."It couldn't be more realistic unless you let people actually live there.” [18] To Lt Blum, Baladia provides a much closer approximation of Arab urban geographies than did the mock cities he encountered in the United States. “It is the most realistic, extensive replication of the sort of urban area typical of this region of the world that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It is just such a superb training facility for all the nuances and the situational awareness and the battlefield conditions that Soldiers face in this part of the world,” Blum said.[19] Baladia helps concretise Aissa Deebi’s critique in Otherwise Occupied of the Zionist fantasy of a ‘pure’ geopolitical project sustained by permanent war and an endless targeting of the racialised, demonic other. The project demonstrates the sheer banal materiality of that Zionist project in its recent phases – not just in the more familiar landscapes of militarised borders, confiscated landscapes and illegal settlements but in urban landscapes who’s very role is to sustain the projection of colonial violence against Palestinian society. Bashir Makhoul, large-scale installation project “Giardino Occupato” also resonates powerfully and rather eerily against Baladia. During the show, members of the public assemble and reconfigure the cardboard city. This represents the endless mutations with which Palestinians are forced to occupy and claim space -- informal settlements and refugee camps -- within wider geopolitical regimes that render them invisible, illegitimate and unimportant occupy. But this very process acts as a doppelgänger to Baladia, where the spaces are deliberately and endlessly reconfigured to mimic the next target of colonial, expeditionary war. [1] Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London: Verso, 2006; Mike Davis, ‘The Pentagon as global slum lord’, TomDispatch,, April 19th 2004, accessed June 10th.; Mike Davis, ‘The urbanization of Empire: Megacities and the laws of chaos,’ Social Text, 22:4, pp. 9-15. [2] Richard Norton, ‘Feral cities’, Naval War College Review, 2004, 56:4, pp. 97-106. [3] Phil Misselwitz and Eyal Weizman, ‘Military operations as urban planning’. In Anselme Franke (ed.) Territories, KW Institute for Contemporary Art : Berlin 2003. pp. 272-275. [4] Eyal Weizman, ‘Lethal theory,’. LOG Magazine,. April 2005, 74 [5] Thomas Hammes, ‘Time to get serious about urban warfare training’, Marine Corps Gazette, April 1999. Available at [6] Grant McDonald, ‘Bullets in the bricks; Urban operations training’, T2Net, 23rd August 2006, available at [7] Personal communication. [8] Derek Gregory, The Colonial Present, Blackwell: Oxford. [9] Derek Gregory, The Colonial Present, Blackwell: Oxford, pp. 201-203. [10] Derek Gregory, The Colonial Present, Blackwell: Oxford, pp. 229-230. [11] Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Chicago, London: SteidlMack, 2007. [12] Arieh O’Sullivan, ‘Army inaugurates warfare village’, Jerusalem Post, January 13th 2005. [13] Barbara Opall-Rome, ‘Marines to train at new Israeli combat center.’ Marines Corps Times, Jun 25, 2007 at [14] Barbara Opall-Rome, ‘Marines to train at new Israeli combat center.’ Marines Corps Times, Jun 25, 2007 at [15] Justine Ward ‘Embattled urban terrain,’, Engineering in Europe: US Army Corps of Engineers. 3 summer 2007 16-19, pp. 16 [16] Barbara Opall-Rome, ‘Marines to train at new Israeli combat center.’ Marines Corps Times, Jun 25, 2007 at [17] Barbara Opall-Rome, ‘Marines to train at new Israeli combat center.’ Marines Corps Times, Jun 25, 2007 at [18] Jim Greenhill,’Israeli MOUT Facility Model for National Guard,’ US Army News, Jan 14, 2008 at [18] Jim Greenhill,’Israeli MOUT Facility Model for National Guard,’ US Army News, Jan 14, 2008 at [19] Jim Greenhill,’Israeli MOUT Facility Model for National Guard,’ US Army News, Jan 14, 2008 at

Publication metadata

Author(s): Graham S

Editor(s): Bishop,R; Hon, G;

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Otherwise Occupied: The palestinian pavilion at the venice biennale

Year: 2013

Pages: 163

Publisher: Palestinian Art Court

Place Published: Venice and Jerusalem


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9789950352056